Empire, Oil, and Disaster - blog about my new book

A religious sect getting more and more attention of the world. Jews in the Middle East already have problems with them. Coincidentally, a terrible terract happens in the largest city of the empire. The same religious sect is blamed for it. The year is 64 AD. The sect is Christians. The place is Rome of the emperor Nero.
Beware of September Ides!

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Is the name Isadora (Isidora) really a combinations of names of Isis and Ra?

It’s hard to say. If you check on Internet, you are likely to see a statement that this is a Latin name meaning “Gift of Isis”. See e.g. [1]. Some politically correct sites translate it as “gift of moon”, which is not much of a difference; they just use the fact that Isis was a moon goddess.

However Latin origin does not make much sense, because suffix “-dora” (-δωρα), meaning “gift/giving”, is actually Greek. See [2] So the current thinking is that this was actually a Greek name with the meaning, as correctly noted, “gift of Isis”, which widely spread across the Roman world after about fourth century BC. After all, cult of Isis spread into the Greece and Rome, so the explanation seems quite plausible. Besides, Egypt was under the Greek rule for quite a while before Roman conquest (Cleopatra was a descendant from the Ptolemy I, one of the Alexander’s the Great generals who’s got Egypt). This means that the name could originate from Egyptian Greeks as well with exactly this meaning.

However, there is still a highly speculative possibility that there was an Egyptian name derived from names of both Isis and Ra, which was later distorted by impudent Greeks to fit their own language. After all, that’s how the very name “Egypt” came to life. And because Isidora was a real Egyptian priestess, I used this explanation to provide her with an “authentic” Egyptian name :-).

[1] Baby names
[2] LGPN Online, Oxford

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

For reference: some suffixes of Greek names

For reference: some suffixes of Greek names. They are not just -os or -on, they are longer and they have meanings. Somewhat similar to Egyptian Si-/Sit-/Aken-/etc. prefixes.

γενη/γεηεια ('genos'/'geneia' = ‘birth’),
δοτος/δοτα ('dotos/dota' = ‘giving'),
δωρος/δωρα ('doros/dora' = 'gift’),
φιλος/φιλα ('filos/fila' = ‘loved/loving’),
κλης/κλεια ('klos/kleia' = ‘renown’),
φανης/φανεια ('fanos/faneia' = ‘manifestation’)

[1] http://www.lgpn.ox.ac.uk/names/meaning.html

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Where did Nero live after the fire

Nero’s huge Golden Palace – Domus Aurea – was not really ever completely finished. That’s considering the whole complex including palace, several villas, artificial landscape and lake between Palatine and Esquiline hills. However, a lot of things were done pretty quickly. It’s practically impossible to find out exact dates, Roman historians were not very fond of exact dates, they would rather gossip that after he moved in he said, “At last I can live like a human being,” or about his huge statue called Colossus, and other extravaganza.

Just like many modern writers, they were story tellers, not record keepers. So, it seems that we actually don’t really know when exactly the first villa or other livable edifice was constructed to allow the emperor to move in. In fact, absence of information goes to an anecdotic scale: when I entered “Where Nero lived before Golden Palace was built?” in MSN Search, they gave Google home page as the best search result. And to tell the truth, Google was not that helpful either. Leaving Internet aside, neither were any of the historical books that I have in my library. It seems that historians are simply not that much into the details as we could expect.

Considering this, I took an artistic license to assume that by the summer AD 65, there was already a villa or two, which were the residences for the emperor. The main palace seems to be too large to be erected and fully equipped and decorated by that time. Consider its sheer size as well as a bunch of new ideas and concepts, including mosaic on walls and ceiling or a dome-type revolving roof. So, it seems as a safe assumption that the main palace was still in progress at the time, and the emperor had to live in smaller villa-style buildings that could have being built by that time.

As a side note, mosaic on the ceiling that was introduced first in the West by Nero’s Golden Palace was later adopted in the style of Catholic temples. The lake that I mentioned before was later drained and the famous Flavian Coliseum was built on this place. The name of Coliseum originated in Colossus – the statue of Nero that stood nearby. In fact, rumors in Rome credited the construction of Coliseum to an attempt to shadow the Colossus, which was afterward pretty much in the Coliseum’s backyard.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

How much Subura suffered from the Great Fire?

Subura is the place of Nil’s residence in the first chapters. It’s also the place where most members of Roman Dental and Plumbing Association as well as many professional and trade foreigners like Egyptian, Jews, and Greeks lived. So, naturally, I wondered, should I describe the damage done by the fire? Should I describe the rebuilding effort? If yes, was it state driven or privately funded?

First thing first, the fire is known to affect most of the hills and Subura is right in the middle between then. So there is no way it could have been spared by the Great Fire and undoubtedly suffered from it greatly. Also, according to Tacitis [1] “Rome, indeed, is divided into fourteen districts, four of which remained uninjured, three were leveled to the ground, while in the other seven were left only a few shattered, half-burnt relics of houses.” Considering that the area between Palatine and Esquiline Hills was later used for the Golden Palace, this area was evidently “leveled to the ground”. Also, Tacitus says that “had its beginning in that part of the circus which adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills” and that “The blaze in its fury ran first through the level portions of the city, then rising to the hills.” If you’ll look to the map, it will be clear that the “level portions” were exactly Subura, from all other directions the place of original incident was enclosed with the hills – Palatine, Caelian and Esquiline.

On another hand, being a poor part of the city, where “economically disadvantageous” lived, Subura was not probably the center of Nero’s efforts to rebuild the city. Consider that all historians repeat as his important and good contribution the idea of building porticos in front of buildings that may be used by firefighters. Then consider a typical street view of Subura-like district of a Roman city. That’s multi-storied multi-family dwellings facing the street. There is simply no place for porticos in front of them unless you eliminate the street completely. So, clearly his notable efforts were concentrated on the hills, where the more (albeit not most) privileged lived. He probably helped to rebuild on the swamps between the hills, where Subura was, but that was next in line and the idea of “giving it back to the swamp” could have crossed his mind on more than one occasion. Sounds familiar, isn’t it?

Anyway, the bottom line is that Subura was affected and unlikely to be rebuilt by the time, but because it was a poor part of the city it did not looked that bad, at least comparing to a normal picture. Also because most buildings were brick and stone, that were not exactly ruins, but rather a lot of smoked buildings, maybe with failed internal structure, but outside walls mostly intact. Think of an abandoned industrial district of an American city for a visual.

[1] The Annals by Tacitus, Book XV

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